How local councils are paving the way towards net zero

Article by Melina Bunting

In the wake of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, leaders from across the globe have accelerated their efforts to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Despite the Government’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, Australia has ranked last among 64 countries for its climate policy. But on a local level, the nation’s capacity for climate action tells a different story.

Instead, the key to more sustainable communities lies with our councils, as we collectively pave the way for a greener future.

Bring on the powerful voices of council climate change networks

Blair Palese – Managing Editor for Climate & Capital Media

For many local councils, getting their communities to net zero is hardly smooth sailing.

Blair Palese – Managing Editor for Climate & Capital Media – cited Australia’s hesitancy to launch into climate change action as a significant hurdle for positive change.

“There’s no doubt the lack of real Federal Government commitment on climate change for so many years – and the fact that the issue has been made so political in Australia – is our biggest challenge.”

Instead councils should turn to like-minded partners and stakeholders as sources of support and inspiration. Ms Palese suggests we look to governments around the world – such as the UK, New Zealand, and the US – who are making great leaps with outcome-driven policies and incentives.

“When governments at all levels leave the politics behind and work to really address climate change, they not only achieve great outcomes for our climate but find it’s a massive opportunity to save money, find innovative solutions and establish long-lasting partnerships that deliver far-reaching benefits,” she said.

For instance, there’s the C40 collective, a network of mayors from nearly 100 world-leading cities, collaborating to deliver urgent climate action. Their Green & Just Recovery Agenda seeks to deliver transformative economic, health and emission reduction benefits across the world as we recover from COVID-19. Closer to home are the Eastern and Western Alliances for Greenhouse Action, collaborations between 16 councils across East and West Melbourne.

“Council climate change networks in Australia have been a powerful voice for climate action and provided much needed support to take up practical solutions,” Ms Palese said. “Bring on more of this everywhere!”

 

Is EUF in your net zero toolbox?

Robin Mellon, NSW Program Adviser for Better Building Finance

According to peak body ASBEC (the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council), the built environment is responsible for almost a quarter of our nation’s emissions. So it stands to reason that tapping into this sector would dramatically decrease our carbon footprint.

Some governments have focused on making new buildings more sustainable, with local councils setting standards found in the City of Sydney’s Sustainable Design Technical Guidelines, or, looking to the UK, the British Land Sustainability Brief.

But what about existing buildings? Most of these emissions come from electricity usage across residential and commercial properties. For many, the next logical step is to install solar panels and make the switch to renewable energy. They’re still too expensive for the average Australian household, but the commercial sector has much to gain, thanks to the introduction of Environmental Upgrade Finance (EUF). These council-enabled agreements seek to help businesses upgrade their premises to become more energy efficient, by making loans to achieve these upgrades more accessible.

Robin Mellon is the NSW Program Adviser for Better Building Finance, Australia’s leading facilitator of EUF. He emphasised the key role that councils will play in achieving net zero.

“Councils are like the corner piece in a jigsaw puzzle, anchoring our progress and helping to put the overall picture together. But councils don’t have to take action alone; helping council operations to achieve net zero relies on local businesses, owners, schools and community groups that champion and support their actions, and vice versa.”

He added that EUF is a fantastic opportunity for businesses across the country. Available funds are often a pain point for councils, but these agreements are cashflow positive loans that leverage private investment; they don’t impact council budget, and they don’t force councils to invest in green tech for the private sector, making it an actionable step towards net zero.

“Right now, councils are trying to get to net zero with an incomplete toolbox,” he said. “We’re here to give them the rest of the tools they need to enact big changes.”

 

“We don’t have time for fig leaves”

When we talk about reducing our emissions, we tend to focus on what we as individuals can do to make a difference. But in his latest book, The New Climate War, scientist Professor Michael Mann describes this belief that climate change is ‘all our fault’ as the new face of climate denial.

Ms Palese noted how this mindset can enable fossil fuel giants to shift our focus away from phasing out coal, oil and gas.

“Don’t be fooled! We have the technologies and solutions; we now need to hold our governments and the fossil fuel sector to account to ensure a safe climate future.”

Mr Mellon took a collaborative approach.

“Individually we need to look at where we place our biggest investments – such as our banking, mortgages and superannuation – to ensure we’re supporting net zero emissions, technologies and solutions with every dollar. We also need to call for action from every level of government and make choices that are bigger than our short-term insecurities and support long-term climate resilience.”

Achieving net zero emissions is a daunting task, and one that calls for bold strides. Many local councils might feel powerless in the grand scheme of things.

Ms Palese recommended that we keep it real.

“As we’ve seen nationally, net zero can be a fig leaf with no policy to back it up or a real commitment to set targets and measure impact,” she said.

“We don’t have time for fig leaves; use the net zero opportunity to set achievable goals and initiatives, and you’ll be helping your constituents, community and country. We can all take pride in that.”

 

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